Region gets $20m inland port

A $20 million development at the old Longburn freezing works has been announced today, transforming part of the site into an inland port and freight hub.

Construction of the facility, which will act as a distribution hub for imported freight to be distributed throughout central New Zealand, will start next week and it is expected to be operational in December.

The inland port is a joint venture between Ports of Auckland, Port of Napier and Icepak.

Icepak chairman Wayne Gratton said the project had been in development since Icepak purchased the site in 2011.

He said they wanted to improve operational efficiency and reduce double handling of freight.

"The collaboration will enable importers, exporters and freight distributors to utilise the hub services regardless of shipping schedules, with the ports working to reduce lead-times and costs, from improvements in back loading."

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said the new port would allow it to reduce the amount of under-utilised freight capacity across the country.

"There is currently a flow of imports from our port to distribution centres in Palmerston North, with under-utilised freight capacity on the return leg. This new inland port allows us to capitalise on that empty freight capacity to give the region's exporters fast, efficient access to export markets."

Port of Napier chief executive Garth Cowie said the port was a natural extension of its central New Zealand coverage, bringing it closer to its customers, shippers and transport partners.

The project would give freight managers more access to rail and was important to ensure the viability of rail in New Zealand, particularly in the regions, KiwiRail freight general manager Alan Piper said.

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said creating a port in the region was a logical decision.

"Manawatu offers significant strategic advantages in terms of distribution thanks to our central location and excellent connections to road, rail and air."

Labour leader David Cunliffe was unaware of today's impending announcement when he pledged support for an inland port in the city yesterday.

Cunliffe told reporters at Massey University that the proposed inland port, which he had been briefed on by city MP Iain Lees-Galloway, appeared to be a fit for Labour's regional development fund.

The fund, one of Labour's regional economic policies this election, would set aside $200m for public-private partnerships.

Speaking later in the day to the Manawatu Standard, Cunliffe said an inland port would increase Palmerston North's strength as a logistics hub.

Lees-Galloway said he knew development of an inland port had been talked about but he had not been involved personally in the plan's development.

"This is the kind of hope Palmerston North needs after being neglected by the National Government for the past six years."

Gratton said port development was stage one of the upgrade.

Icepak's three- to five-year plan includes doubling its cold storage facilities.

Gratton said construction of the additional cold stores would start once the port was complete.

He said there was a long-term plan to expand the port even further.

Spearhead Manawatu spokesman Craig Nash said the development would help with the region's growth potential and he expected further investment and development activity as the region's capability continued to increase.

Work will start next week on a cross dock to complement the existing cold store on site. A container yard and container wash facility - to prepare containers to export-ready standard - will also be built.

Half of the old freezing works building is used as a training site by Urban Search and Rescue, which will remain on site until April next year.

Manawatu Standard